The piece initially began as a duet between Mayer and former Zenon company member Greg Waletski. While the space metaphor wasn't apparent in the beginning, "my brain was working on it before I knew it," says Mayer.
As Mayer was sorting out her application for MANCC (Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography), a residency program for choreographers in Florida, she got the idea of incorporating outer space into the piece. She googled the word "orbit," and ran across an alternative definition for the term.
"I always thought of 'orbit' as orbiting around something," she says. However, there is also a passivity, as "other forces are propelling you or stopping you," she says. "Your path won't change until something pushes you or obstructs you."
The new definition "freaked me out in a great way," Mayer says.
Mayer also watched an IMAX movie about NASA's International Space Station. The film mentioned the Kennedy Space Center, which is in Florida. "I thought, 'I'm going to Florida!' That's how it started."
Though the piece is inspired by astronauts and outer space, those connections are abstracted. Someone coming to the show who hasn't read anything about it wouldn't "necessarily see floating in space or spaceships," Mayer says.
While she was working on development, Mayer was in the midst of personal and career changes, having quit her job of 11 years. "It was one of those transitional times in your life," she says. Although it was a good change, it was a time she describes as "wildly uncomfortable." Creating the work came out of a need to cope and to fit in with discomfort.
While Waletski was featured in the original duet, he only appears on video in the performance at Red Eye, as his role has been replaced by Jim Domenick. Waletski had to drop out because he's in school to be an ASL translator. Mayer says that when they learned he couldn't be in the show, they created a video of him leaving for the piece. He also does a non-literal ASL interpretation of the duet.
In all, there are about five or six video segments, which are separate from each other. They include footage taken at MANCC, two of which are in black and white. There's video filmed in the studio, as well as the hotel rooms where the dancers were staying. Mayer says she gave each of her collaborators a score, and had them record themselves each night as a way to examine private space. There's also a live video feed where one dancer wears a camera mounted on her backpack.
The orbit metaphor isn't literal, as it has to do with not being here or there, and the discomfort of living in the midst of change. While the group was working on the piece, many people involved were going through big changes, including preparing for birth, death, and career shifts. Soft Fences is more serious than much of Mayer's previous works, so she's not sure exactly how the audience will react. "I hope [the humor] will always be there," she says.
Thursday, December 4-7
Red Eye Theater
15 W. 14th St., Minneapolis
8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday